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How do we measure countries’ success in digital technology?

How do we measure countries’ success in digital technology?

Posted on 30th July 2019

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If you want to know which are the best digital countries/economies in the world you need to go to the experts.  Unfortunately, the experts can’t agree with each other, or rather while there is some unanimity it’s also the case that different experts make their assessments based on different criteria…

For example, two years ago, the Harvard Business Review created an index of 60 countries’ “digital effectiveness.”  This places countries in four different categories (see graph below): “Stand Out – which are highly digitally advanced and exhibit high momentum, of which three – Singapore, New Zealand and the UAE are clearly ahead, with the UK, Israel and Estonia next, followed by Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, the US and Finland; “Stall Out” – which are countries that enjoy a high state of digital advancement while exhibiting slowing momentum, such as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Finland(it must be something to do with skiing!); “Break Out” - countries that are low-scoring in their current states of digitalisation but are evolving rapidly, such as China, Malaysia, Bolivia, Kenya and Russia;  and “Watch Out” – where these countries face significant challenges with their low state of digitalisation and low momentum; in some cases, the pace of digitalisation is moving backward. 

Digital evolution graphic

Also in 2017, IMD Business School ranked countries for “digital competitiveness.” In my opinion, this was, in some ways, more interesting, because it uses a model (see below) to determine each country’s ranking, based on three main criteria – Knowledge, Technology, and Future Readiness.  

Digital competitiveness model graphic

Of these three, Knowledge includes “talent” and “training and education,” or, as the authors put it, “the necessary infrastructure.”  This infrastructure is indeed necessary: without talent all else falls by the wayside.  The problem, in which Be-IT has a vested interest of course, is that there are acute shortages of said talent and an insufficient pipeline coming through the education system: it’s supply (or lack thereof) will arguably be the biggest determinant of every country’s future success (or lack thereof).     

Moving on, we have the World Economic Forum’s rankings (from 2016) of “the countries best prepared for the new digital economy.”  These are, in order (best first): Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Norway, United States, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Japan.  Interestingly, when the WEF then ranked countries by their government’s “tech savviness” some other places entered the list, viz (in order): Singapore, UAE, Bahrain, South Korea, Qatar, Malaysia, Japan, Estonia, Luxembourg and the UK. Those of you who have read horror stories of vast waste in UK government procured tech systems (e.g. the NHS) may wonder just how bad the rest are!

More recently, there has been a report by InterNations which ranks countries according to their quality of “digital life.”   The bottom ten (i.e. worst) countries are: Uganda, Turkey, Peru, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, India, Egypt, China and Myanmar.  The top ten is as follows: Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Israel, Canada, Singapore, Netherlands and US. No UK? Perhaps that explains why your Apple Wallet won’t work!

In general, we see the countries we expect to see at the top of such indices, and the ones at the bottom are similarly no surprise. However, there are contradictions in the way some countries are assessed as good in some areas but less so in others. How do we square the WEF rankings with the suggestion from IMD that four of the WEF top ten countries are in danger of stalling due to slowing momentum in the development of digital technology? Why is no-one seeking to examine the preparedness of different countries when it comes to tech education and, especially in this day and age, cyber-security training?  You pay your experts and you take your choice…

Alastair Philp, Be-IT  


Posted in News, Opinion

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